Archive for August, 2013

“Jehovah’s self transcends His noblest works”

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Over this past week I’ve been awestruck again and again at the beauty of the Beaver Valley.  Although I’ll never lose my love for the unique coastal scenery of Long Island, the setting of Geneva College is just as powerful a witness to the glory of God in creation.

At the same time as I’ve been taking in my surroundings, the instruction at Geneva (through chapel and my Old Testament Survey course) has also been pointing to this idea of general revelation.  Add to that the fact that my personal devotions took me through Psalm 8 and Charles Spurgeon’s commentary thereon, and you have a pretty powerful combination.

Did you know that Spurgeon tried his hand at poetry?  I didn’t until I found these lines which he composed after a journey through the Alps.  They are powerful enough to share here in their entirety:

Yet in all these how great soe’er they be,
We see not Him. The glass is all too dense
And dark, or else our earthborn eyes too dim.

Yon Alps, that lift their heads above the clouds
And hold familiar converse with the stars,
Are dust, at which the balance trembleth not,
Compared with His divine immensity.
The snow-crown’d summits fail to set Him forth,
Who dwelleth in Eternity, and bears
Alone, the name of High and Lofty One.
Depths unfathomed are too shallow to express
The wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord,
The mirror of the creatures has no space
To bear the image of the Infinite.
‘Tis true the Lord hath fairly writ His name,
And set His seal upon creation’s brow.
But as the skilful potter much excels
The vessel which he fashions on the wheel,
E’en so, but in proportion greater far,
Jehovah’s self transcends His noblest works.
Earth’s ponderous wheels would break, her axles snap,
If freighted with the load of Deity.
Space is too narrow for the Eternal’s rest,
And time too short a footstool for His throne.
E’en avalanche and thunder lack a voice,
To utter the full volume of His praise.
How then can I declare Him! Where are words
With which my glowing tongue may speak His name!
Silent I bow, and humbly I adore.

–from The Treasury of David, commentary on Psalm 8:1

–MRK

Lord’s Day 31: The Keys of the Kingdom

Catechism and Psalter

At first glance, Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism doesn’t seem nearly as appealing as some of the other sections of our confession.  Frankly, it may even come across as pretty harsh.  Do three questions and answers of this Catechism of comfort really need to be devoted to the difficult subject of church discipline?

Actually, the integrity of our faith and practice cannot be upheld without a clear understanding of this very topic.  How else can we distinguish the wheat from the tares and protect the church from being infiltrated by wolves in sheep’s clothing?  To be sure, unbelievers should feel welcome to visit a congregation, to “come as they are,” but unless they turn to Christ they have no right to identify themselves with his people and commune at his table.  Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism, then, sets forth the true biblical teaching concerning the “keys of the kingdom.”  It’s to this section that we turn today in our continuing series here on URC Psalmody.

83 Q.  What are the keys of the kingdom?

A.  The preaching of the holy gospel
and Christian discipline toward repentance.
Both preaching and discipline
open the kingdom of heaven to believers
and close it to unbelievers.

84 Q.  How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?

A.  According to the command of Christ:

The kingdom of heaven is opened
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to each and every believer that,
as often as he accepts the gospel promise in true faith,
God, because of what Christ has done,
truly forgives all his sins.

The kingdom of heaven is closed, however,
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to unbelievers and hypocrites that,
as long as they do not repent,
the anger of God and eternal condemnation
rest on them.

God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come,
is based on this gospel testimony.

85 Q.  How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?

A.  According to the command of Christ:

If anyone, though called a Christian,
professes unchristian teachings or lives an unchristian life,
if after repeated brotherly counsel,
he refuses to abandon his errors and wickedness, and,
if after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers,
he fails to respond also to their admonition—
such a one the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship
by withholding the sacraments from him,
and God himself excludes him from the kingdom of Christ.

Such a person,
when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform,
is received again
as a member of Christ
and of his church.

Suggested Songs

214, “Men Who Walk in Folly’s Way” (Psalm 107)

“Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.”  This section of Psalm 107 points clearly to God’s Word as “wisdom’s laws,” which only fools can deny—and suffer the consequences for their unbelief.  But for those who heed the gospel message and “cry/In their trouble” to Jehovah who saves, Christ offers grace and salvation.

Men who walk in folly’s way,
And to evil turn aside,
Find that sorrow will repay
Those who wisdom’s laws defied;
Down to death’s dark portals led,
They abhor their daily bread.

To Jehovah then they cry
In their trouble and He saves,
Sends compassionate reply,
Gives the health their spirit craves,
Rescues them with gracious aid
From the snares their folly laid.

Sons of men, awake to praise
God the Lord who reigns above,
Gracious in His works and ways,
Wondrous in redeeming love;
Let them all thank-offerings bring,
Celebrate His deeds, and sing.

271, “Through All the Years, May Israel Say” (Psalm 129)

Psalm 129 reflects both the positive and the negative aspect of question and answer 85.  In it Israel, the Old Testament church, reflects on God’s faithfulness to it even as it considers the punishment of “the foes of Zion,” those who make it their aim to break down the walls of God’s city.

Through all the years, may Israel say,
My bitter foes have oft assailed,
Have sought my hurt in fierce array,
Yet over me have not prevailed.

Though scars of conflict and distress
Remain to tell of trials past,
Jehovah in His righteousness
Has safely brought us through at last.

The foes of Zion shall be brought
To hopeless flight and put to shame;
Their wicked plans shall come to nought
And all mankind forget their name.

71, “I Waited for the Lord Most High” (Psalm 40)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Such a person, when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform, is received again as a member of Christ and of his church.”  A discussion of church discipline in the form of excommunication could easily take the form of a harsh judgment, but this attitude is in no way biblical.  The ultimate goal of discipline is to bring the wayward sinner back to Christ and his fold, not to devote him to hell’s destruction.  Even the form for excommunication in the back of our blue Psalter Hymnal contains this prayer:

And since Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, but that he ay repent and live, and since the bosom of Thy Church is always open for those who return, kindle Thou, therefore, in our hearts a godly zeal, that we, with good Christian admonitions and example, may seek to bring back this excommunicated person, together with all those who through unbelief and recklessness of life go astray.  Add Thy blessing to our admonitions, that we thereby may have reason to rejoice again in them for whom we must now mourn, and that thus Thy holy name may be praised, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 40 is the song of a sinner freshly rescued “from destruction’s pit/And from the miry clay,” words which all of the redeemed would do well to bear in mind.  Realizing the punishment from which every one of us has been saved, how can we view the discipline of our fellow humans with anything but deep compassion?  O how thankful we must be that the Lord exhibits an abundance of grace even to the most wayward of sinners.

I waited for the Lord Most High,
And He inclined to hear my cry;
He took me from destruction’s pit
And from the miry clay;
Upon a rock He set my feet,
And stedfast made my way.

A new and joyful song of praise
He taught my thankful heart to raise;
And many, seeing me restored,
Shall fear the Lord and trust;
And blest are they that trust the Lord,
The humble and the just.

–MRK

Live from Beaver Falls

Once again a significant chunk of time has elapsed since my last blog post here on URC Psalmody.  That’s not because my passion for psalm-singing has waned, nor because I think maintaining a blog is now a less desirable priority.  The past two weeks have been all hustle and bustle during the huge transition from homeschooling to college life.  And—that’s right—this post is coming to you live from the basement of Pearce Hall on campus at Geneva College in the quaint town of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

I spent the first full week in August accompanying a mission group composed of 28 people from Oak Glen United Reformed Church (located in a southeastern Chicago suburb), who spent a week on Long Island participating in reconstruction related to Hurricane Sandy.  Spending the entirety of eight days with a group of servant-hearted Christians from another part of the country—and serving as an amateur “tour guide” of sorts—was a remarkable and uplifting experience.  Below (or at this link) is a recording of our congregation plus the Oak Glen group singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” during our Sunday afternoon service.

Having seen the mission group safely off on their long trip back to Chicago, I was left with eight days in which to process all of my earthly belongings and determine which of them should accompany me to college.  Thankfully I had room for a decent selection of hymnals and all the resources I need to keep URC Psalmody up and running.  As I packed my Dordt College CD set, Genevans A Cappella album, and Synod 2012 recordings, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor soul who would have to be my roommate for the next year.

Two Sundays ago my parents and I began the first leg of our journey to Geneva, worshiping with our brothers and sisters at Zeltenreich Reformed Church (URC) in Lancaster County, PA.  There (purely by God’s providence) I met a fellow incoming freshman to Geneva, who now lives about three doors down from me in the same hallway.  So far I’ve met two other URC members among Geneva’s freshman class, and I can’t wait to find more.

The view from my dorm.

The view from my dorm.

After a visit to my grandparents in western Maryland, we finally arrived in Beaver Falls on August 20th.  Then began the solemn process of moving into my new “home” and saying goodbye to my ever-faithful parents.  Amid the frantic pace of the first few days at Geneva, it was a joy to discover that my roommate shares my love for music and the church.  Needless to say, God’s providential hand has been abundantly evident.

The college has also proven its excellence over and over again during the past week.  One of the most memorable moments for me was hearing some members of the college’s choir perform “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Psalm 23) during opening ceremonies.  I joked that it was Friday night partying, Reformed Presbyterian style—but seriously, where else can one hear the psalms sung as part of a reverent ceremony invoking the Lord’s blessing and guidance on the coming academic year?

Then there was the singing at College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church, which I visited with many of my friends this past Sunday, and which will very likely become my church home for the next four years.  This congregation of perhaps two hundred members belted out the psalms a cappella with more gusto than I have heard from groups four times its size.  It also deserves to be said that many of the Reformed Presbyterians I have met thus far have been quite interested in the United Reformed Churches, our Psalter Hymnal, and the relations between our two bodies.  My sincere hope and prayer is that our ecumenical fellowship with our Scottish brethren will increase as time goes on, for it is an understatement to say that we have much in common.  (As an interesting side note, I discovered today that J. G. Vos, the son of renowned Reformed theologian Geerhardus Vos, taught Bible at Geneva from 1954 to 1973.)

My dorm room desk.

My dorm room desk.

And that brings us right up to the present moment.  Having just finished tonight’s load of homework, I’m ready to try to tackle another installment of our continuing Heidelberg Catechism series before turning in for the night.  I can’t make any promises that it will be published tomorrow, but even if the blog remains silent for a few more days, rest assured that all is well here in Beaver Falls, and the Lord is continuing to show himself as faithful as ever.

Blessings,

–MRK

Lord’s Day 30: Completely Forgiven

Catechism and Psalter

During its treatment of baptism, the first of the two divinely-ordained sacraments, the Heidelberg Catechism explained its nature and purpose, then asked for whom it was intended.  The Catechism follows a similar pattern in its explanation of the Lord’s supper: now that the proper administration of this sacrament is understood, who is to partake of it?  Lord’s Day 30, our focus today in URC Psalmody’s Heidelberg Catechism series, answers this question.

80 Q.  How does the Lord’s supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

A.  The Lord’s supper declares to us
that our sins have been completely forgiven
through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ
which he himself finished on the cross once for all.
It also declares to us
that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,
who with his very body
is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father
where he wants us to worship him.

But the Mass teaches
that the living and the dead
do not have their sins forgiven
through the suffering of Christ
unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests.
It also teaches
that Christ is bodily present
in the form of bread and wine
where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.
Thus the Mass is basically
nothing but a denial
of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ
and a condemnable idolatry.

81 Q.  Who are to come to the Lord’s table?

A.  Those who are displeased with themselves
because of their sins,
but who nevertheless trust
that their sins are pardoned
and that their continuing weakness is covered
by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
to strengthen their faith
and to lead a better life.

Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however,
eat and drink judgment on themselves.

82 Q.  Are those to be admitted to the Lord’s supper who show by what they say and do that they are unbelieving and ungodly?

A.  No, that would dishonor God’s covenant
and bring down God’s anger upon the entire congregation.
Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ and his apostles,
the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people,
by the official use of the keys of the kingdom,
until they reform their lives.

Suggested Songs

483, “Come, Ye That Fear Jehovah” (Psalm 22)

(Sung by Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI)

Those are to come to the Lord’s table “who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned…by the suffering and death of Christ.”  Although it appears in the hymn section of the blue Psalter Hymnal, “Come, Ye That Fear Jehovah” is actually a paraphrase of Psalm 22, with its origins in the 1912 Psalter like the majority of our songbook’s other selections.  Particularly, number 483 treats the last few verses of the twenty-second psalm, which speak of the glorified Messiah’s rule over all the earth.  The One who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1) as his body was broken and his blood shed for our sins is now the Provider of the rich spiritual feast his people can enjoy.  The Psalter Hymnal paraphrases it beautifully:

Come, ye that fear Jehovah,
Ye saints, your voices raise;
Come, stand in awe before Him
And sing His glorious praise.
Ye lowly and afflicted
Who on His Word rely,
Your heart shall live forever,
The Lord will satisfy.

Both high and low shall worship,
Both strong and weak shall bend,
A faithful Church shall serve Him
Till generations end.
His praise shall be recounted
To nations yet to be,
The triumphs of His justice
A newborn world shall see.

93, “Thus Speaks the Lord to Wicked Men” (Psalm 50)

“Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.”  In contrast to the humble believer, the Catechism teaches (referencing I Cor. xi.27), the non-elect call down God’s curse upon themselves if they partake of the meal of his covenant people.  Worse, as question and answer 82 explain, they incur divine wrath upon the entire congregation.  This ominous warning echoes the words of Psalm 50:

Thus speaks the Lord to wicked men:
My statutes why do ye declare?
Why take My covenant in your mouth,
Since ye for wisdom do not care?
For ye My holy words profane
And cast them from you in disdain.

Consider this, who God forget,
Lest I destroy with none to free;
Who offers sacrifice of thanks,
He glorifies and honors Me;
To him who orders well his way
Salvation free I will display.

196, “Of Mercy and of Justice” (Psalm 101)

(Sung by Grace United Reformed Church in Dunnville, ON)

“[T]he Christian church is duty-bound to exclude” those “who show by what they say and do that they are unbelieving and ungodly.”  Perhaps the themes of Psalm 101 are offensive to readers in our modern relativistic society, but to the Christian, this psalm remains the inspired, infallible Word of God.  And these words are an essential guide for the overseers of God’s “holy nation,” his Church: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.”

The faithful and the upright
Shall minister to me;
The lying and deceitful
My favor shall not see.
I will in daily judgment
All wickedness reward,
And cleanse from evildoers
The city of the Lord.

128, “Though I Am Poor and Sorrowful” (Psalm 69)

Although Psalm 69 is primarily seen as a messianic prophecy, its words also reflect the proper attitude of the penitent sinner.  One of the many benefits of the Lord’s supper is that it reminds us to examine our hearts before we approach the table.  Will we, because of our hypocrisy and unbelief, only eat and drink judgment upon ourselves?  Or do we acknowledge that we are “poor and sorrowful,” dependent on the Lord’s constant sustaining grace?

Though I am poor and sorrowful,
Hear Thou, O God, my cry;
Let Thy salvation come to me
And lift me up on high.

Then will I praise my God with song,
To Him my thanks shall rise,
And this shall please Jehovah more
Than offered sacrifice.

The meek shall see it and rejoice;
Ye saints, no more be sad;
For lo, Jehovah hears the poor
And makes His prisoners glad.

Let heaven and earth and seas rejoice,
Let all therein give praise,
For Zion God will surely save,
Her broken walls will raise.

In Zion they that love His Name
Shall dwell from age to age;
Yea, there shall be their lasting rest,
Their children’s heritage.

In his massive commentary on the Psalter entitled The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon, writing on Psalm 22:26, pens these wonderful words:

The spiritually poor find a feast in Jesus, they feed upon him to the satisfaction of their hearts; they were famished until he gave himself for them, but now they are filled with royal dainties.…For a while they may keep a fast, but their thanksgiving days must and shall come.…Your spirits shall not fail through trial, you shall not die of grief, immortal joys shall be your portion.  Thus Jesus speaks even from the cross to the troubled seeker.  If his dying words are so assuring, what consolation may we not find in the truth that he ever liveth to make intercession for us!  They who eat at Jesus’ table receive the fulfilment of the promise, ‘Whosoever eateth of this bread shall live for ever.’

–MRK

Lord’s Day 29: This Visible Sign and Pledge

Catechism and Psalter

With Lord’s Day 29 the Heidelberg Catechism continues its exposition of the two biblical sacraments instituted by Christ.

78 Q.  Are the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ?

A.  No.
Just as the water of baptism
is not changed into Christ’s blood
and does not itself wash away sins
but is simply God’s sign and assurance,
so too the bread of the Lord’s supper
is not changed into the actual body of Christ
even though it is called the body of Christ
in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.

79 Q.  Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood?  (Paul uses the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood.)

A.  Christ has good reason for these words.
He wants to teach us that
as bread and wine nourish our temporal life,
so too his crucified body and poured-out blood
truly nourish our souls for eternal life.

But more important,
he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge,
that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work,
share in his true body and blood
as surely as our mouths
receive these holy signs in his remembrance,
and that all of his suffering and obedience
are as definitely ours
as if we personally
had suffered and paid for our sins.

Suggested Songs

39, “My Shepherd is the Lord My God” (Psalm 23)

“[A]s bread and wine nourish our temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood truly nourish our souls for eternal life.”  One of the most familiar and comforting images of Christ in both testaments is that of a Shepherd who cares for our every need.  The twenty-third Psalm is a powerful expression of this image, but Charles Spurgeon calls attention to a seldom-noticed connection between Psalms 22 and 23:

The position of this Psalm is worthy of notice.  It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross.  There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second Psalm.  It is only after we have read, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!’ that we come to ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  We must by experience know the value of the blood-shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd, before we shall be able truly to know the sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.

Indeed, we must come to know the true depth of Christ’s love as shown in “his crucified body and poured-out blood” in order to appreciate the significance of the Lord’s supper which “nourishes our souls for eternal life.”  It is because Christ went all the way to death itself that we may “walk the vale of death” yet “not know a fear.”  And how great is the value of the “table Thou hast spread for me/In presence of my foes”—for it is that table itself that fortifies us to withstand the enemies that would wage war upon our souls.

My shepherd is the Lord my God:
What can I want beside?
He leads me where green pastures are,
And where cool waters hide.

He will refresh my soul again,
When I am faint and sore,
And guide my step for His Name’s sake
In right paths evermore.

Thy goodness and Thy mercy, Lord,
Will surely follow me,
And in Thy house forevermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

186, “Sing to the Lord, the Rock of Our Salvation” (Psalm 95)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“[W]e, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance.”  Right from the start, Psalm 95 acknowledges the Lord as “the rock of our salvation.”  It also builds upon the shepherd motif of Psalm 23 by calling God’s people to humble obedience and trust in their Guide.  In the words of this paraphrase, “Shall we not hearken to our kindly Shepherd/By whom our feet are led?”  It is by Christ’s sacrifice and the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts that we can “enter the promised land” as the Lord’s own chosen people, and be nourished all along the way with his body and blood.

Sing to the Lord, the rock of our salvation!
Sing to the Lord a song of joy and praise!
Kneel in His presence, lowly in thanksgiving!
The lofty psalm upraise!

And we, His people, sheep of His own pasture,
Lambs of His bosom, whom His hand has fed,
Shall we not hearken to our kindly Shepherd
By whom our feet are led?

Oh, harden not your hearts, like those who wandered
The desert forty years to Jordan’s strand;
Humble and comforted, O chosen people,
Enter the promised land.

200, “O Bless the Lord, My Soul, with All Thy Power” (Psalm 103)

“[A]ll of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins.”  Here we return to the redemptive themes of Psalm 103 as paraphrased in Dewey Westra’s Genevan setting.  Through the death of Jesus Christ “Jehovah doeth right, for he is holy,” yet he also supplies all our needs, fills our souls with good, “and, like the eagle’s, He renews thy youth.”  Truly “Jehovah’s mercy floweth, like a river,/From everlasting, and abideth ever/On those that love and worship Him with awe”!

O bless the Lord, my soul, with all thy power!
Exalt the God who is thy strength and tower;
Let all within me bless His holy Name.
Bless Him who heareth all thy supplication;
Forget not thou His kindly ministration,
But all His gracious benefits proclaim.

O bless the Lord, who all thy need supplieth!
Thy soul with good He fully satisfieth,
And, like the eagle’s, He renews thy youth.
Jehovah doeth right, for He is holy;
His judgments for the sore oppressed and lowly
Are done in perfect righteousness and truth.

Bless Him, ye hosts, in praises without measure,
Ye ministers of His that do His pleasure;
Exalt His Name, His majesty extol.
Bless ye Jehovah, all His works in union,
In all the places of His wide dominion;
Yea, bless the Lord with joy, O thou, my soul!

–MRK


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